18 Famous Ad Campaigns from the ’90s That Have Been Pulled Due to Public Backlash

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The 1990s witnessed some hilarious and witty ads alongside inappropriate and radical ones. These included excessive sexualization and controversial content that targeted different sections of society. Even though these ads gained success and fame, they had to be pulled back because of their insensitivity. Here are 18 famous ad campaigns from the ’90s that have been pulled due to public backlash: 

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Calvin Klein

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If one company has mastered provocative ads, it has to be Calvin Klein. The underwear shots in the 1990s captured by Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon, featuring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss, have gone down in history. The white and black underwear shots surely excited a section of the crowd but were criticized for their provocative approach and ethical standards.


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The US had new tobacco advertising laws put into place in 1971, which led to cigarette commercials on TV being banned.  While these laws were in action, they didn’t stop firms from using cigarette branding symbols like Marlboro’s iconic cowboy figure. Launched in 1997, they did not even have to show a cigarette. The cowboy was enough. Soon, these regulations became more rigid, and ads such as these were banned. The Marlboro Man appeared on TV screens one last time in 1999, after which it was pulled back.


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Nowadays, the LGBTQ+ community has gained widespread recognition, and efforts are being made to give them equal rights. Back in 1997, when the movement was still developing, Absolut Vodka took the first mainstream initiative and launched an ad campaign in which the vodka bottle was wrapped in pride colors. The company faced a lot of criticism for its efforts from radical conservatives and some sections of society, who accused it of commercializing a social moment, resulting in the ad being pulled back.

Diet Coke

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Equality extends to both men and women, which Diet Coke failed to make the public realize in its creative ad. The Coca-Cola ad in 1994 revolved around women in power desiring and commanding a man. The model Lucky Vanous became quite famous after the ad, and Diet Coke breaks became official at 11:30 a.m. However, this ad seemed demeaning toward men considering the time, and even the Canadian Government decided to pull it back.


a race car track with people standing next to it
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Scalextric, a famous slot car racing toy brand, launched the “It’s a Boy Thing” campaign in 1998. The campaign aimed to attract young boys by creating advertisements emphasizing the thrills and excitement of racing using Scalextric sets. However, the ad showcased a man carrying a baby boy who he accidentally picked up because the cradles were switched. As soon as he finds out, he has a girl. His heart sinks because he won’t be able to play with the Scalextric sets with his child. This ad was pulled back for gender discrimination and stereotypes.

Johnson Boats

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For some reason, even in the past, boats were advertised using women and date nights as eye candy. Johnson Boats launched an advertising campaign labeled “You and Your Johnson” in the late 1990s. While the ad was designed to establish that the boats are suited for anything, it did promote date nights and inappropriate activities, which came off as provocative.

Wunder Boner

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The Wunder Boner ad campaign launched in 1994 is often listed among the worst-named commercials. The product was a simple fishing tool, but the commercial and humorous approach made it quite famous. However, with the focus primarily on marketing rather than sales, the product suffered many losses. The inappropriate innuendos and undertone raised concerns about its relevance to a wider audience.


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The RSPCA has never had a good reputation regarding animals, and numerous complaints have been filed again for their cruel ads. RSPCA’s ad featured a dog who was kept hostage, and the users were asked to support them, or they would “have to pull the trigger.” Regardless of the event’s happening, such an act caused a public outcry and would never have been approved today.


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Everybody loves clicking photos. However, no one would appreciate creepy stalkers following them and capturing their pictures without consent. This ad, popularized in the 1990s by Minolta, featured its X7 Camera. The direction of the advertisement depicted a man hiding and clicking a picture of a girl who was undressing. This weird ad may have been popular in Japan but was pulled back worldwide.

Winston Cigarettes

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This TV commercial launched in the 1990s is completely unbelievable! It featured Fred and Barney from The Flintstones, a viral cartoon among children worldwide. The official sponsor, Winston Cigarettes, used a segment from the show to promote the brand’s cigarette, harmful tobacco, which is deadly. The ad was soon pulled back and would receive worldwide criticism if such attempts were tried today.

Fly National Airlines

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When we book flights, especially from an agency, we look for comfortable seats, catering facilities, and proper service. For some reason, this ad by Fly National, which featured a lady named Judy, had no connection whatsoever with flights. The tagline “Fly Judy” was used in a sexual manner, with the lady undressing herself and prompting others to use her “anytime.” This ad naturally did not perform well and was pulled back for its sexual innuendos.

Maxwell House Coffee

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In contemporary times, a woman is empowered to choose any profession she wants, including that of a housewife. The role is not looked upon, and even liberal couples understand the importance of gender roles. The Maxwell Coffee House ad campaign’s tagline “good to the last drop” exceeds every level of patriarchy to the last drop. The woman in the ad does not have a name and is called “wife.” Moreover, the man instructs her to be a “good little Maxwell Housewife” so their “sunny relationship” lasts forever. Not only would this ad be pulled back, but the producers would also be humiliated for misogyny.

Love’s Baby Soft

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The element of sexualization in ads is a widespread phenomenon. However, it gets weird when a child like Innocence is dragged in, similar to Love’s Baby Soft fragrance and popularized in the 1990s. The ad depicted a woman sucking on a lollipop with a voiceover saying, “Innocence is sexier than you think.” Associating “sexy” with fragrances for babies makes this ad very infamous.


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Sega has always been at the top of the list regarding quirky marketing. The brand had several humorous and inappropriate campaigns, and during the 1990s, the “Sega Goes Hard” advertisement was launched. The picture depicted had the joystick gripped in a very sexual manner amidst the tagline, “The more you play with it, the harder it gets.” While this may fascinate numerous people for their witty marketing, such ads were eventually pulled back to maintain the decorum.


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In the 1990s, the term heroin chic became very popular. Heroin users inspire this look. Prada got on this bandwagon, giving women a wasted look with smudged makeup, messy hair, and mid-thigh dresses. This also included dark circles under the eye coupled with pale skin. The world soon grew out of it, but such ads were not appreciated for their bizarre inspiration from the drug.


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It is not uncommon for Candies to be on the controversial advertising list. Many of their ads have been banned previously because of their hypersexualization of female models. The Candies fragrance ad launched in the 1990s featured Alyssa Milano as a model in a bikini opening a cupboard overflowing with condoms. All three shelves were stashed with them, and the second shelf contained two fragrance bottles, which honestly couldn’t be seen.

Abercrombie and Fitch

hot pant jump suit
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Abercrombie and Fitch’s catalog throughout the 1990s has even been accused of soft porn. Bruce Weber has participated in many of these campaigns, which semi-undressed models mark in very suggestive poses. Moreover, these catalogs’ negative impact on children was soon met by public protests and negative coverage. To this day, Abercrombie and Fitch have a portfolio of many controversial campaigns, one being “fat and attractive?”.

Victoria’s Secret

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Victoria’s Secret’s 1999 runway show and “Body By Victoria” campaign were famous ones that raised the bar of “beauty” significantly. However, people began criticizing the lingerie giant for perpetuating false body images and unhealthy beauty standards. Models were often dressed similarly and had to reduce a significant amount of body weight to prepare for these fashion shows.

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